John Robert Matthew MacIntyre, the son of Ingrid, a homemaker, and Robert, an RCMP officer, was born in Winnipeg on Dec. 18, 1984. Robert’s career took the close-knit family across Canada, from Ontario to Alberta, Nova Scotia, then finally back to Manitoba. Matt, as he was known, was wise beyond his years; his sister Tracey jokingly called him her “big” brother, though she was eight years his senior. “He always had really good advice,” she says. “He was always calm.”
Matt’s parents encouraged his artistic interests, but were caught off-guard by how quickly their son mastered the guitar and saxophone without any formal instruction. “I’ve been playing guitar for 40 years,” Robert says. “In four years, he left me in the dust.” Matt’s musical skills could reduce his dad to tears. “I got a promotion one time, and when I came home he played Hail to the Chief on his saxophone,” one of many songs Matt learned by ear, Robert recalls.
When Matt was 14, the MacIntyres, after years on the move, settled for good in Stonewall, a small town north of Winnipeg. There, Matt met Ben Shedden, and formed a lifelong bond over marathon video-game sessions in Matt’s room. Later, they would buy slushies and cruise around town in Ben’s beefy muscle car, a 1970 Pontiac they called “the Chief,” listening to tunes and talking about life.
Toward the end of Grade 12, as his friends prepared for university, Matt, who was conflicted about what to do next, took a few years off to work before returning to school, and earning his high school equivalency degree. In 2006, he moved to Edmonton with his girlfriend, working his way up to a managerial position at Mongolie Grill. Two years later, after a broken engagement, Matt returned to Manitoba and moved in with Ben. He sold cars and even made pizza for a while, but what he did for a living was never a big part of his life. “His managers always thought he was such a great worker, and it wasn’t long before he got some promotion,” Ben says. “But he was looking for something that was going to really give him fulfillment and challenge him.” Tracey says he’d always wanted the opportunity to “make a change.”
Soon Matt discovered photography and something clicked. He was humble about his work, but stunned Ben with his nature photography on one of their annual camping trips. “Matt, this is it, you’ve found your passion,” Ben recalls saying. Matt laughed it off, but Ben knew his friend believed him: “It was the first time he never argued.”
A career soon took shape. Last year, he launched his own business, MacIntyre Photography; one of his photos was chosen for the cover of a charity cookbook; and he got a job as a sales associate at Don’s Photo, a noted local camera shop. This fall, two days before he and Ben left for a trip to the Yukon, Matt was promoted at Don’s. “He’d started very quickly to establish a name for himself,” Ben says. “He was developing his brand.”
On Aug. 31, Matt and Ben—who’d grown matching shaggy beards for the trip—hit the road, stopping in Busby, Alta., for a whirlwind, 10-hour visit with Tracey. Once in the Yukon, they hiked in Kluane National Park, then drove to the Alaskan border, snapping pictures of grizzlies and bison along the way. Matt, who’d packed two cameras, expected to take more than a thousand photos over their nine-day trip. “He was having the most wonderful time,” Ben recalls. “His camera was always going.” One of his goals was to capture the beauty of the northern lights.
On Sept. 6, the pair, both experienced paddlers, rented a canoe, and set off for an overnight trip on Fish Lake, a snow-fed mountain lake near Whitehorse. But once they hit the water, the weather quickly turned, and though they managed to keep the bow of their canoe pointed into the swell, it flipped in the choppy waters. As Matt was tossed from the boat, he managed to grab his waterproof GoPro camera and started snapping off shots of himself and Ben in distress. “He was so passionate about capturing it all,” Ben says.
Both wore lifejackets, but the frigid waters made it tough to swim. They were separated, and Ben swam to a nearby island to take refuge. That night, he huddled freezing and ill under a shelter, watching a spectacular display of northern lights dance across the lake. “There you go, Matt,” he thought. “I hope you’re somewhere enjoying this.”
The next day, Ben swam to shore and called for help. The RCMP located Matt’s body near shore, his two cameras by his side. Police blamed hypothermia and drowning. He was 27.